Apartheid, Amnesty, Amnesia


The majority of those responsible for atrocities committed under apartheid have never stood trial. In this blogpost Kylie Thomas, our Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the NIOD, writes about the re-opening of unresolved cases of human rights violations in South Africa.

I’m currently researching the re-opening of unresolved cases of human rights violations that occurred during apartheid and that remained unresolved when the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) drew to a close in 1998. These cases have been suppressed for political reasons for more than twenty years – those who are responsible for crimes against humanity committed during apartheid fear persecution, and have placed obstacles in the way of those who would see justice done.  

Ahmed Timol

My research so far has focused on the case of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, the first activist to have died in the custody of Security Police at John Vorster Square Police Station (renamed Johannesburg Central Police Station) in 1971. The police claimed that Timol had thrown himself out of the window of an interrogation room on the 10th floor of the notorious building. More than forty years after Timol’s death, the court over-ruled the findings of the 1972 inquest, which determined that the activist had committed suicide, and declared that he had been murdered. The landmark verdict was passed by Judge Billy Mothle in the High Court in Pretoria in October 2017 and opened the way for apartheid-era perpetrators to be placed on trial.